Google Gets Serious?
Android-powered micro-consoles seemed like a fantastic idea back when the word on everyone's lips was "OUYA," not "PS4." Cheap hardware, affordable games, ease of development, everybody wins. What a wonderful concept.
However, the reality of the situation didn't take long to dawn on us, especially after a few months of OUYA ownership. The problems were myriad, from Android's lacklustre gaming library to out-of-box obsolescence. Not to mention some borderline-psychopathic decisions made by Boxer8's top brass. Most importantly of all, microconsoles are stuck in a Catch-22 situation whereby they can't make money on software sold through the Google Play marketplace, yet Google Play is the only long-term Android marketplace developers will bother developing for.
Now they've revealed a gaming platform of their own -- Android TV -- which has pretty much made every existing contender using their operating system obsolete.
We've seen it all before, but don't start rolling your eyes just yet. The twist here is that Android TV isn't going to be a set-top box for long, rather that's just the first step in securing world domination. It's a service, not so much a piece of hardware, which will soon live inside your telly and other more versatile devices.
Revealed at the latest Android I/O conference, Android TV initially resembles most 'microconsoles' in terms of functionality. You can rent or buy movies and TV shows, browse content with voice commands a la the Kindle Fire and play Android games that support Bluetooth controller inputs. Indeed, you can get a first look at the new official controller thanks to a render a Reddit user discovered in the Android L version files (above) and a photo snapped at the conference below. A shiny and familiar-looking peripheral to be sure.
Credit to Artem Russakovskii.
So far so predictable, but Android TV has some intriguing benefits. First of all, it "plays nice" with all Android hardware, allowing you to 'cast' films and shows from phones or tablets, syncing progress so you can pick up where you left off. Phones and tablets can also be used as controllers if games aren't programmed with physical inputs. We
More interestingly, though, it's also not a set-top box. Even if you'll find it in set-top boxes.
The Android TV service is designed to be easy for multiple manufacturers to incorporate into their hardware, both for creators of streaming HTPCs such as Razer and Asus alongside smart TV giants such as Sony (and Samsung, we suspect, especially since the relationship between the two companies has only deepened of late). As such it will be available in a variety of inexpensive set-top boxes, but also within more versatile units and, from next year, baked into television sets too. Presumably you'll only need your Google Play details to access your existing content, regardless of the device, with all your progress, friends lists and achievements corralled up into the pre-existing Google Play Games app.
A few potential issues still exist, notably the lack of quality gaming software for Android relative to the size of its user base. Rampant piracy, the fragmented nature of the OS and difficulty optimising for so many devices has held back Android's gaming ecosystem - Android gaming is years behind where it ought to be, unless you count a berserk torrent of F2P titles. However, Google should be able to spend some of their extraordinary wealth on securing more quality games for the system, especially in order to counter Amazon Fire TV's acquisition of top-tier industry talent.
That is, unless they've spent it all on wearable computers and killer robots.
Do we need to play Android games on a big screen? Personally, I feel that the jury's out, but Android TV makes the most sense as an entertainment service with loads of options and devices, not a micro-console with an increasingly depressing future.